expats in Hong Kong

Observations of Hong Kong from a Tai Tai Expat

Experiencing life in Hong Kong as an Expat

After having a friend come to visit for the weekend I have realized that there are a number of idiosyncrasies about Hong Kong that I am required to explain on a regular basis to all visitors. As an expatriate living here, these things have become second nature to me now and it often takes a visiting friend to point them out for me to realize that they are not commonplace in other parts of the world.

Before I describe some of my expat observations about Hong Kong life and people I would like to make the point of saying that, unless stated otherwise, these are not limited to the Chinese but are generally typical of all people living in Hong Kong, expats included!

  1. People think it’s okay to ask you outright how old you are, how much you earn as an expat, how much money you have in your bank account and how much rent you pay. It seems that everyone here not only knows the size of their own apartment to the nearest two square feet, they know the size of everyone else’s apartment to the nearest two square feet.
  2. Anybody who is drunk, making excessive noise, chanting, fighting or singing some type of song in the street will usually be a westerner.
  3. Chinese people don’t walk in a straight line. It is much more enjoyable and fun for them to zigzag along the street bumping into anyone who is attempting to overtake them from behind. It is also common for them to randomly stop dead still in front of people causing a mini pedestrian traffic accident. A large number of people here also seem to have a strange habit of looking behind them as they are walking. In the past, I used to think that they were just making sure I wasn’t following them but I have since bumped into many a person coming round a corner while looking the other way.
  4. All pretty girls wear leggings. Over their leggings they wear shapeless, formless dresses, the aesthetic equivalent of wearing a sack, except their dresses are not made of sack material and the designs incorporate more diverse coloring.
  5. People here are obsessed with their mobile phones. They talk on the phone at the same time as paying for their shopping, write texts as they attempt to cross the highway and surf the net as they navigate the busy high street. Here, unlike many other cities, you can even use your mobile phone on the underground railway. The presence of mobile phone activity is usually a reason for the drunkard-style walking and random stopping described in point five. I observed a man at the airport once as he placed his mobile phone through the security scanner. Unfortunately, he was actually still having a conversation on it at the time and the immigration officer had to literally pull him back as his head started to disappear into the scanner still gripping onto his phone.
  6. In Hong Kong you are either extremely hot or extremely cold. However, unlike most countries, you risk catching a cold by going inside, not outside. Air conditioning is ramped up so high here that there is a real threat of catching hypothermia in the cinema.
  7. People of all ages love Hello Kitty and Snoopy. It is not unusual to see a middle age businessman on the phone with a cute “Hello Kitty” charm dangling down from the handset as he negotiates a multi-million dollar deal.
  8. You can never discretely enter any type of retail store unnoticed. All of the staff in the shop greet you in unison with some variation of “HelloThankyouwelcome” type of run-together English. It is almost as though they have taken all the common English phrases that the company has taught them and have decided to err on the side of caution by using them all at once.
  9. You can never discretely leave any type of retail store unnoticed. All of the staff bid you farewell in unison with the stock, “bab biiiiiiiiii”. When you return for a visit home you wonder why people look at you strangely when you shout “Bab biiiiiiiiii” on your way out of H&M.
  10. It is not uncommon to see older men walking down the street or sitting outside a noodle bar in their pyjamas. It is as though they have realized that there is no point in taking their pyjamas off in the morning, as they will only have to put them back on again in the evening. They, therefore, opt to wear them all day long.
David Tompkins
Author: David Tompkins